Linguistics Department

Beyond the Iambic/Trochaic Law

Tue, January 31, 2012
Beyond the Iambic/Trochaic Law

Associate Professor of Linguistics Megan Crowhurst has been awarded a two-year grant for $196,999 from the National Science Foundation. Her project is entitled "Beyond the Iambic/Trochaic Law: Perceptual Influences on the Subjective Grouping of Rhythmic Speech."

Stress rhythms in languages are often conveyed by repeating patterns of stressed and unstressed syllables. These patterns can be broken down into groupings that are highly restricted across languages. Vowel duration and intensity have distinct and opposing influences on listeners’ perception of rhythm. According to the Iambic/Trochaic Law, alternating loud and soft syllables tend to be perceived as trochaic (loud-first) pairings, whereas alternating long and short syllables are perceived as iambic (long-last) groupings. These perceptual groupings are reflected in the rhythmic categories found in human languages. However, recent research has found that the perceptual groupings described by the Iambic/Trochaic Law vary, depending on the native language of the listeners. Additionally, other features, such as vowel glottalization, affect stress patterns in languages. This crosslinguistic project will study the joint influence of vowel duration and intensity, as well as the influence of glottalization, on the perception of rhythm among native speakers of English, Spanish, and Zapotec.

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